I’m sure many musicians have the so-called “red-light syndrome” (RLS for brevity): you press record and you instantly forget how to play guitar (or any other instrument). In my case, bendings, vibrato and timing become particularly atrocious.
These days, with much reduced guitar time, I feel like I need to work on this particular aspect of my playing and I probably need to change something in my recording sessions/attempts.
Are there any well-established techniques / exercises one can do to counteract RLS? Or should I just force myself to record as much as possible, hoping that I will eventually get used to it?
This is probably the best way to go about it. I do find that RLS is the worst right at the very start of a recording take and that as I go on I tend to get into the performance a little more and stop thinking about it so much, so I suppose you could start by just jamming for a while before segueing into your take, and trim it out after? Depending on what you were recording, of course.
I’ve also found it helps to, when recording, if you make a mistake, don’t stop and immediately restart, but finish the take. Stopping and restarting kind of breaks up your groove, and when the last thing you played was a mistake, when you start your next take, psychologically you’ll be starting from a place where you just messed up so you’re in mistake-avoidance mode. And, you want to be in a mental space where you’re thinking about nailing the take, not all the mistakes you don’t want to make.
Also, be very cognizant about mood and atmosphere and getting your surroundings “comfortable.” Oftentimes when tracking leads I won’t wear headphones (I’ll have them on while micing and dialing in a tone, but often not while tracking) and instead will just “jam along” with the backing tracks coming out over my monitors, because that’s how I usually play. My amp cab is next to and slightly behind my monitors so the backing tracks aren’t being fed directly into the mic, so bleed isn’t a huge factor (and is inaudible in a mix - I could probably reduce it further by putting a heavy blanket over the mics and cab while tracking), so the impact to the quality of the performance is very minor, but I feel more “connected” with what I’m playing than I would if I was listening to my backing tracks/click and guitar sounds through headphones.
No need to find courage - just record something to check out how your playing sounds, with no intention of ever sharing it. I’ve found going back and listening to my recorded playing is a GREAT diagnostic tool for making sure I’m playing in the pocket, not overusing certain phrases, that I’m resolving lines well and there’s cohesiveness to my playing, etc. No need to ever share it with anyone else, do it for your own practice and your own analysis.
Good advice in here already. I think just doing it and getting used to it is your best bet.
A good strategy would be to double-track everything you play. Rhythms, leads, solos, everything that’s not improvised. The doubling will force you to be critical about your timing and tightness.
For myself, I prefer to track my rhythm parts while standing up. I have a different energy–more relaxed, like I’m at the rehearsal room. The instant I sit down, I start clenching up. I typically do my solos sitting down, however.
I think where a lot of RLS comes from is people getting nervous about commitment, if you catch my drift. You start worrying about what other people are going to think of your song while you’re in the middle of a take and it disrupts the physical flow. Just focus on knowing the sound you want to make before you play it and stick to it.
Keep in mind I’m on the lower end of the skill spectrum here, but I’ve played on a lot of commercial recordings. I used to hate recording but over the past two years I’ve started to enjoy it more than ever.
Noa Kageyama has some relevant material, and even a whole course covering topics around performance psychology, like regulating stress, mental focus, etc. I can’t speak to the specific material ni the course, but see some discussion of it here: Anyone actually done the Bulletproof Musician course?
You might try digging through his blog too: https://bulletproofmusician.com/blog/ — looks like you can filter posts by topic like “focus” or “confidence”, may find some helpful tips there!
Interesting comment on multi-tracking everything. This is basically standard practice for rhythm tracks, and if you’re recording a rhythm guitar part, double tracking it and panning the tracks hard left and right is sort of the de-facto starting point. Double-tracked lead is a very different sound and one I personally don’t care for, but it’s an interesting practice idea. I’d say if you’re going to do this for a finished recording, then I’d advocate triple tracking the lead, and panning it L-center-R. I couldn’t telll you eactly why this is the case, but the ear seems to do a better job with “odd” numbers of performances for the “hook” component of a song, be that a vocal track, a guitar melody, whatever. You can do one and it’ll sound good, but if you’re going to do multiples, three will sound a lot more consonant than two.
I also record almost everything standing up, because that’s how I practice almost everything. If a particular part is easier sitting (I’m trying to think back, and I recently did a clean guitar outro overdub for one of my dad’s songs with a lot of slow/in the pocket hit-ons along one string over sustained open string notes, and for whatever reason it was just a lot easier to pull off sitting down) then go for it, but putting yourself into the same posture while recording as you do while practicing definitely helps get you in the right place to play your best.
Yeah I was speaking more from a practice standpoint. For listening I prefer leads tracked down the centre as well, unless we’re talking badass Randy Rhoads solos. Although I’ve heard he was triple-tracked as well.
There are different ways to take on the Red Light Syndrome for recording audio (recording video is even worse, but I suspect you mean tracking).
What I found to work best for me is when I minimize the amount of steps I need to take to “get ready” for recording a take.
For example, if I have to press “record” then listen to the track, waiting anxiously for the moment I have to start playing, then start playing on time and then try to lay down a good take and I make a mistake halfway through, I have to press “stop” again and restart the whole thing, relive the anxiety, wasting time listening to music while I’m not playing, all the while being annoyed at having made the mistake.
I found out that if I just loop a part indefinitely (so I don’t have to busy myself with pressing buttons) and start tracking, I get a usable take much, much faster and without stressing out, since I don’t have to take my eyes off of the guitar, the music is constantly playing and you are constantly “in the groove”. If you mess up, no worries, keep playing.
In short: when I record, I always loop a part and only stop when I think I have a usable take.
Always record your first take, even if you aren’t intending to keep. Most of the time, it’s the best. Aside from that, just practicing to a metronome over and over. Lastly, most professional recordings are multiple to the point of excessive takes, then with protools and other software, they correct timing issues even further. This doesn’t happen as much on blues or jazz records, but certainly rock records and metal, are all corrected to the point of perfection.
Thank you, it’s always good to keep in mind that 99% of what we see online is somewhat “photoshopped”
In fact, part of my RLS is probably due to the excessively (unrealistic?) high quality I see in YT shred videos and play-throughs. Then I listen to my takes and they sound sloppy in comparison.
Nowadays when I see a performance that keeps switching between different camera angles I immediately suspect that this “comping” thingy is going on.
In fact I did something like this myself: in my thinking machine video I divided the song in 4 parts (roughly 1min long) and did multiple takes for each part, gluing the best takes at the end. I also superimposed two takes (double tracking) to cover imperfections in some sections. Yet, I was still miles away from a “spotless” recording:
I suspect that if you went through your recording note-by-note and time-corrected everything, and then pitch-corrected, and THEN comped, you would have a perfect recording, and arguably a better recording than the original (comping was much more painful back in the 1980’s, etc.). I also suspect that software companies will apply machine learning to comping in the upcoming years and the only important thing about an artist will be (a) does he or she look great, and (b) can he or she dance? (Now the producer needs to aim for the commercial sound, of course…)
So this argues that once one’s raw materials are “good enough” for the comping process, it’s time to learn that dance choreography, as the live shows will still demand that.
So this comes back to RLS: Do you even care about that in 2019, or is it more important to be on Instagram building up one’s fan base? I think the answer is clear…
I’m not sure what’s going on in my brain to be honest, as I am just a bedroom guitar hobbyist, I don’t want to become a rock superstar millionaire or anything.
EDIT: at the moment the only thing that could potentially interest me combining music+money is music research and education (like Troy &co’s job).
I want to build a “video-portfolio” of tunes that I can be proud of, and that I can share with my friends (the patient ones at least) and with the forummers here. And that is enough self-imposed pressure to trigger RLS. Doesn’t help that I like stuff that is quite difficult to play.
Honestly, it depends on the genre. In the pop world, vocal ability is only a small part of what it takes to be a “pop star,” so heavy comping, pitch correction, and editing is pretty necessary to get a “pro” performance out of some vocalists (others, not so much - Gaga can sing her ass off, for instance, so I suspect her vocals are far less edited than Selena Gomez’s, and when they are, it’s more for artistic effect than to produce a “good” performance). Meanwhile, what it takes to be a successful first-call session guitarist is almost entirely chops and ability to quickly come up with and then nail “the part,” so I think in the top 40, pop, and Nashville scenes, there’s probably a lot less comping and editing than you might think.
Modern metal? Especially in the “djent” subgenre, HEAVY editing, sometimes to the degree you hypothesize with DI performances comped together note by note, quantized to the grid, and then reamped to create “inhumanly perfect” performances is fairly widespread, sometimes even as a “production choice” than out of sheer necessity (sometimes out of necessity, and I’m looking at you, HAARP Machine, lol). Meshuggah made waves a year or two back when they made the decision to track “The Violent Sleep of Reason” entirely live as a band, just to buck this trend.
My personal thoughts are that, well, they should be obvious considering we’re having a conversation on a message board affixed to a site about breaking technical barriers on the guitar, but that I think performances should largely be left to speak for themselves. But, I’d never tell anyone what to do, provided if they’re editing heavily they’re honest about it, and not claiming one of these perfect comped together performances is what comes out when you pick up a guitar.
Ah yes, I’ve seen a few of those in the last couple of weeks, I wasn’t even aware of this trend! I think the main difference between this (speeding up/using midi and so on) and the comping thingy described above is: here we are talking about stuff that is pretty much unplayable (or way above the player’s actual ability). Instead the comping is some sort of extreme cherry picking from material that is actually “real”.